Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday bonus #2

Second in a sometime series of lighter fare on Saturdays.   This one has been circulating on the internet for more than a decade, but it's always good for a chuckle.   This version was published in the Durham Herald-Sun: 
"I'm sure many of you are aware that about two weeks ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri cannot discriminate against the Ku Klux Klan when it comes to groups that want to participate in the adopt-a-highway program. Of course, while the name of the Klan is aesthetically disgusting, we'd all agree that this decision is a victory for free speech and equal protection under the law, right? 

"Well, the Dept of Transportation in Missouri has gotten their revenge, and boy is it sweet. Sure, they can't remove the KKK's adopt-the-highway sign, but few would dispute the state's ability to name the highway itself.

"The KKK is now cleaning up a stretch of the newly-christened Rosa Parks Freeway."
Missouri?   Right.  The same Missouri that has been in the news so much of late for the police officers shooting of unarmed young black men and the over-zealous -- and overly armed -- response to peaceful protesters.

Perhaps the Missouri Department of Transportation should give some civil rights hints to the police department of Ferguson, Missouri.


Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): "Too late to repeal Obamacare"

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was asked whether she would vote to repeal Obamacare.   Her reply:

"You know at this point, I think we’re past that. . . . I think it would’ve been much better if there’d been a bipartisan bill crafted in 2008 that had provisions that both parties could agree on, such as prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

"I think at this stage what we should do is a number of bills that would fix flaws in Obamacare. I think we’re past the point of being able to repeal the bill altogether. . . ."
I suspect a lot more Republican senators agree with her.   Most are not saying so, but the number of campaign ads from Republicans talking about repealing Obamacare has dropped precipitously in the last six months.

So why don't Democratic candidates start using it in a positive way?   A few are doing so, with good results.   Perhaps that will pick up in the next three weeks.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Getting married in South Carolina -- echoes of 1949

In the past week, the number of states that either have, or are just a step away from, marriage equality went from 19 to 32 -- without the U. S. Supreme Court doing anything but say "no" to the request to review five cases from three different Circuit Courts of Appeal.   But the combined states that don't already have marriage equality in those three jurisdictions is 13.   They all were affected.

One of those states is South Carolina.  So yesterday there was news of at least one county clerk issuing a marriage license to two women.

So . . . what's the echo of 1949?

I grew up in Sandersville, Georgia in the 1930s-1940s.   In those days, abortions were illegal.  When a young couple needed to get married in a hurry, they would drive to Aiken, just across the border in South Carolina which, unlike Georgia, did not have the three-day waiting period between getting a license and getting married.

Whenever someone said they got married in South Carolina, you could pretty much assume an unplanned pregnancy -- or at least the parents' discovery that their daughter was having sex with her boyfriend.    The remedy, in those days, was not an abortion but a quick wedding -- and the sooner the better, so you could pretend the pregnancy occured after the wedding.

So there would be a quick trip across the border, usually at night before a South Carolina Justice of the Peace who stayed up late -- with a bit of fudging on the actual date for the folks back home.  No one was fooled;  but it sort of saved face.   It was one of those southern, small town things: Don't name it, and you can pretend it doesn't exist.  Once you name it, it's a scandal.

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in South Carolina but not yet in Georgia (there is a case in the courts), we may again hear of "getting married in South Carolina," -- not quick and furtive like 1949, but planned.  I can see it now:   Charleston seems like a pretty romantic place for weddings.   Cue the caterers !!   Spruce up the wedding chapels !!   A new industry for the Palmetto State.

Don't, however, make any long term investment in the wedding industry in S. C.   My guess is that we're a matter of months away from marriage equality in Georgia too.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two short, good-news reports

Here are two bits of good news:

1.  This one hardly made the news -- a small pit on a deep inside page.   Remember that Darrell Issa got the House Republicans to vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress because he failed to comply with their order for certain documents?
Well, Issa sought a court order to force Holder to comply, and it went to U. S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.    She not only denied the request but said that the whole thing was "entirely unnecessary."

One more loss of Darrell Issa, the other being that John Boehner took away the Benghazi investigation and created a Special Committee.  Issa was furious and childishly lashed back that could only have hurt him.   Now this rebuke from a federal judge.

2.  This other good news comes from a Daily Kos blog report on the political situation in Georgia.   Another 212,000 voters have been registered since March 1, 2014, and the last minute rush to Monday's deadline is sure to add thousands more.   Officials have said that the new registrations are "uncharacteristically high -- some 2,000 in Fulton County that usually gets 50 or so at this point in time.

With the six top statewide elections (governor, lt. gov, U. S. Senator, Sec. of State, Attorney General, and School Superintendent) close enough in the polls that it will come down to getting out the vote -- then Democrats have a real chance to win them all.   Each one enhances the chances of the others.

Republicans are panicked and pouring money into ads.   That's not going to do it.   They've already saturated people's brains.   Short of them actually stealing the election, it will come down to a battle of getting people to vote.  And Democrats probably have the better ground game.

Working hard to win is going to trump the Koch's money.   It did in a number of 2012 races.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I was wrong yesterday in my reasoning

In a blog yesterday, speculating about why the SCOTUS justices did not take any of the cases about marriage equality, one of the possible explanations I advanced was that some of the justices wanted to leave it as an individual state option.

Rethinking that today, I realize that cannot be the case.   In fact, refusing to hear the cases, and thus letting the overturn of bans by appellate courts become the law for those regions, actually goes against the states' decisions.

In each of these cases, the voters had passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriageThe appellate court decisions, that were being appealed, overturned the bans.

So, if there's any federalism involved in this, it would be to let the 11 Circuit Courts of Appeal make the decisions by region, not the states.  That doesn't seem likely to be anyone's intent, so it must be a compromise -- or perhaps a stalemate.

So the possible explanation I will add today is that perhaps at least some of the justices want to wait and see if any of those 11 appeals courts uphold the bans.   Then maybe they would hear that case.


Republicans peddle snake oil and a bridge to Brooklyn

Which would you prefer to believe?  A used car salesman or a Republican political strategist?   A guy with a great deal on a slightly used bridge in Brooklyn or a FoxNews star?  A traveling snake oil salesman or the Koch Brothers' advertising guru?

There's no truth in a single one of  'em.    Here's one for the books, or "How Common Core got thrown under the bus" [with thanks to Jay Bookman in his AJC column].
Despite the fact that Common Core was so clearly a voluntary, state-led effort in which Republican officials played a major role, a vocal element within the Republican base has . . .  twisted it into a conspiracy of sorts by the federal government to seize control of local schools. . . . 

To their credit . . . [most] top Republican leaders haven’t indulged in the misbegotten rhetoric surrounding Common Core. . . .  The one major exception . . .  is Richard Woods, who happens to be the Republican candidate for state schools superintendent.
Woods is the snake oil salesman, who claims that Common Core is a federal power grab to control education and that it violates the U. S. Constitution.

It does no such thing.   The federal government's involvement?   NoneZero.   As Bookman explains, Georgia led the development of the Common Core educational standards, which were later adopted by 45 other states.   Our own governor, Sonny Purdue, was co-chair of the original initiative from the National Governors Association, and the ceremony to celebrate it's completion was held in a Gwinnett high school.  Georgia has spent millions of dollars preparing its teachers to implement the standards, and 75% of teachers in a poll last year supported the program.

And yet, we are in danger of electing a man as Georgia School Superintendent who has tried to tarnish this state-initiated program as a bogus "conspiracy" attempt by the federal government to control our lives.   Why?

Why would he do that?    Is it just a crass political ploy, knowing anything that has a whiff of "federal government control" will rile up those voters who just love snake oil and Koch Brothers' PAC money?    Or even worse, perhaps . . . does he really believe in that paranoid fiction?   Either one should disqualify him to be in control of our school system.

Vote for Valerie Wilson for State School Superintendent.   She's smarter than that . . . and a savvy shopper when it comes to Koch oil and used cars.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Two more states

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given its decision:   the ban on marriage equality in Idaho and Nevada have been overturned.   This makes 32.

Colorado is one of the six states affected by yesterday's decision but not one of the five with cases on appeal.    The Colorado Attorney General has ordered county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

That's how easy it can happen now in states covered in the same appellate jurisdiction as other states whose cases have been acted on by their Circuit Court of Appeals.


SCOTUS declines to hear gay marriage cases - #2

So what does it probably mean that SCOTUS declined to hear any of these cases?  I'm not a Supreme Court expert (where is Nina Totenburg when we need her?);  but here are some possibilities that occur to me.

1.  When there are multiple cases on the same issue, SCOTUS usually steps in when there are conflicting decisions on that issue by different Circuit Courts of Appeal.   That makes it practically mandatory that SCOTUS resolve such a conflict affecting different states differently.   But that is not the case here;   every one of the cases have been favorable to marriage equality so far.  There is no discrepancy for SCOTUS to have to resolve.  In Ginsburg's recent interview, she hinted that this is what would happen.

There is one case, I think in Louisiana maybe, where a lower court federal judge has upheld a ban;  but it has not yet gone to its Circuit Court of Appeal.

2.  Considering the makeup of the court and what it takes to hear a case, the answer may lie here.   It takes four votes (of the nine) to accept a case to be heard.   This could simply mean that there were not four votes to accept any of the cases.  That would mean that at least two of the conservative five did not want to accept the cases.

3.  Or it could mean that one of the justices -- perhaps Kennedy -- was willing to let the bans be overturned but did not want to make it mandatory in all 50 states.  Thus, simply refusing to hear these cases preserves it as a state prerogative to decide.  But it would take more than just one conservative, because in only takes four to accept a case.

4.  It's possible that the liberals might have feared that Kennedy would side with the conservatives and uphold the bans -- which would be the worst possible outcome.  Liberals might have voted against hearing a case to prevent that.

5.  As I think about it more, I can imagine something like this:
     Sotomayor and Kagan want to make a sweeping decision to overturn the bans.   Scalia and Thomas and maybe Alito want to reverse the appeals court decisions and reinstate the bans.  Ginsburg and perhaps Roberts and Breyer and Kennedy want to let it be a state decision.   There would not have been four votes to accept a case in this scenario.

Despite her very liberal stance, Ginsburg has expressed concerns that Roe v Wade was prematurely decided, and she might feel the same about this.

From my perspective, the best outcome would have been for them to accept the Virginia case (because it's the best and most thoroughly argued) and make a sweeping decision mandating marriage equality in all 50 states.

The second best outcome is exactly what happened, even though it was unexpected.   We have the freedom to marry now in 30 states and D.C.    What state is going to be foolish enough to mount a Supreme Court defense with these odds against them?   They just want it to go away now.

There are two other appellate courts that may issue decisions any day affecting six more states:   the 6th with cases in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee;  and the 9th with cases in Idaho, and Nevada.   It's possible that the conservative-leaning 6th might decide the other way;  but the 9th located in San Francisco is likely to overturn the bans.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Five more bans on marriage equality bite the dust -- with six other states to be affected as well

Everyone expected that SCOTUS would accept and hold hearings on at least one of the five pending appeals of the overturned state bans on marriage equality.  It could have led to a sweeping decision affecting all 50 states.  Both sides had asked them to rule on the issue.

But SCOTUS surprised everyone today by refusing to take any of the five cases.   Thus in those five states -- Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin -- the appellate court decision stands, and the way is now open for the immediate freedom to marry in those states.

The U. S. Circuit Courts of Appeals divides the country into 11 circuits, with a circuit court hearing appeals that arise in the states within its jurisdiction.   These five state cases came up through the 4th, the 7th, and the 10th circuit courts.

In addition, six other states that are covered by these same circuit courts will be also affected by this ruling -- because SCOTUS' refusal to hear these appeals means that those appellate court decisions are now the law in those jurisdictions.

Presumably, as I understand it at this point, any case already in the courts in these states, or that now is brought, in these circuits will be bound by these same appellate rulings.  This means that marriage equality is only one extra step away for the following states:  North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia in the 4th;  Indiana in the 7th;   and Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming in the 10th.

All of this means that same-sex marriage will now be legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia -- and that includes about 60% of the U. S. population

Think about it:   Gay marriage in Utah and Oklahoma and Indiana.  Ennis and Jack of Brokeback Mountain could now get married in Wyoming.


My scorn for Scalia is not for his beliefs but for the way he insults those who disagree with him.

Let me repeat what I said in the heading:   I do not scorn Justice Antonin Scalia for what he believes about the Constitution (though I strongly disagree with him).   Rather, I scorn him and find him repulsive because of his contempt for those who disagree with him and the hypocrisy he displays in thinking that his biases do not influence his decision, while others' biases do.

Perhaps even more, I disrespect the man because of his rigid certainty that he is right and those who disagree with him are wrong.    The philosopher Bertrand Russell said:  "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."

Scalia made headlines again last week when he told an audience at Colorado Christian University that the Constitution allows for the government to favor religion over non-religion.   He further declares that it protects "freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

In other words, an evangelical fundamentalist is entitled to preferential treatment over an agnostic or atheist. 

Well, he's certainly entitled to his opinion.   What he is not entitled to is the respect of citizens whose intelligence and decency he insults, just because they do not agree with him.   He has insulted not only people like me but his liberal SCOTUS colleagues, repeatedly.

Here he is in his own words, quoted in the conservative Washington Times:

“Our [the Supreme Court’s] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligionThat’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution.”
I thought perhaps he was becoming senile.   But I found this quote going back to Febuary 6, 2006, in an article on CBS/AP News blog.  He was denouncing the concept of the "living Constitution."

"That's the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break.

"But you would have to be an idiot to believe that.  The Constitution is not a living organism; it is a legal document. It says something and doesn't say other things."
Now it's pretty clear that some of his colleagues on the Court, and many legal scholars, do very much believe that the Constitution has to be interpreted according to current societal realities that the Founders had no knowledge of -- and that they intentionally left some clauses general and vague enough to accommodate change.

So, to be very specific.   Scalia seems to be saying that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and probably Stephen Breyer as well, are idiots.  That's very different from destroying a legal argument.   He does not take the time -- or have the facts -- to explain why he thinks they are wrong.   He simply asserts that they are not only wrong, they are idiots for thinking this.

That, my friends, is one of many reasons I have such a low opinion of this man.  And there are many more.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

George Bush is right not to criticize his successor -- but he's very wrong about the facts of history

Ex-Veep Dick Cheney should listen to his former boss/puppet George W. Bush about not criticizing the sitting president.   But Bush is very wrong in his insinuations about whose fault the problems in Iraq are.

First, the debacle in Iraq today is a direct result of the Cheney/Bush decision to invade and try to remake the country into a democracy -- along with getting control of their oil.    The rise of ISIL and the current chaos is not the result of President Obama removing the troopsit's the direct result of the invasion without a plan for what to do then, including the hasty, very bad decision to disband the Iraqi army and put all those military men out of work.    Some of the leaders of ISIL today were officers in that Iraqi army that became our enemies.

Second, it was not Obama who signed the agreement with the Iraqi's for when we would leave.   It was Bush, himself, back in 2008, who signed the agreement that all of our troops would be out by the end of 2011.    Obama later tried to renegotiate that, but the Iraqi's refused to extend the deadline.   They wanted us out and said no to our attempt to leave some troops there.

So, while it's good that the feckless Bush avoids public criticism of Obama's decisions --- his recent interview on Fox was totally disingenuous in its facts and implications.   For example, he said we should have left 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Iraq.   Then why did he not make that part of his 2008 agreement with the Iraqis, instead of "disagreeing" with the current president, whom he piously claims that he will not "second-guess" or criticize?

The sad truth is that I'm not even sure that Bush realizes his self-contradiction and hypocrisy.   Or that, while saying he won't criticize, he is in fact doing just that.  He seems to be limited in how much complexity his mind can deal withIf it's not black and white, he has to trim the facts to make it black and white.

Which is part of his legacy that we're having to deal with now in the Middle East and elsewhere.